At MER Conference, and the Smithosonian again.

I’m at the Managing Electronic Records Conference in Chicago, again volunteering as a student. I’m tired, but it’s been a good experience. One interesting thing to note is that it looks like the commercial and legal communities are going to be paying more attention to authenticity in the digital environment.

Peter Hirtle has a post up at Library Law about the recent actions of public.resource.org. To make a long story short, the group took the photos that they believe are in the public domain, ignored Smithsonian’s notices that they controlled the images, and are making them available to the public. Hirtle is a known proponent of open access to public domain works and has commented on archival issues with copyrighted material in the past (also linked from his post), and although he is somewhat sympathetic to the group’s arguments he thinks they crossed the line. I’m not so certain that what they did was illegal in all circumstances- I’ve read the policy, but I think that the idea that merely stating “By doing X you agree to Y” is just as ridiculous as anything else out there- but Hirtle also points out that we don’t know if all of those works are actually in the public domain. At any rate, the whole terms of use, EULA, and other contract and licensing restrictions in a digital world are in bad need of evaluation and possible reform, in my humble opinion.

Later I’ll try to write more about some of the problems archives and museums, in particular, face with this type of attempted control.

Internet Archive pages not evidence?

Saw on BNA Internet Law News… apparently a New York federal court has ruled that materials from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine are inadmissible without “authenticating testimony from someone familiar with how the pages were created” (quote from BNA). Really interesting! I wonder if IA will be able to supply additional metadata (if there is any) or other ways to authenticate that information. At the very least, the decision will certainly bring up questions about the site’s reliability and possible uses, even outside of the courtroom. Of course, those questions have existed, but here’s another reason to try to answer them. ^_^

DSpace on Gentoo

I’ve put up some instructions on installing DSpace 1.4 on Gentoo Linux, along with some minor configuration instructions. I’ll be updating it with additional information throughout the Fall semester.

Vacation, Libraries, and Library Tech

Back from vacation! My wife’s family lives in Nebraska, and we had a family vacation travelling around Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. We drove over 3,500 miles (starting from here in Austin) and saw some really great stuff that I’d never seen before, including Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument, the Black Hills, Deadwood, Sturgis (just before bike week), Devil’s Tower, Cheyenne Frontier Days, and a demolition derby. ^^

We ventured through several small towns, and in just about all of them the city library had a prominent position on the main street, and looked well-maintained. There was a lead story about library programs in the main paper at Lincoln, NE, and in Cheyenne we saw a library reading program commercial on television. Today we saw a Library of Congress commercial about reading… when did those start?

We’ve started a Koha installation for our IT Lab’s book collection. There are several reasons for this, beyond our book collection getting out of hand. ^_^ First, open source and free software are pretty logical choices for libraries. Code can be examined and edited, and if you have people who are comfortable with tech and experimentation then it can be a pretty low-cost alternative to other software, especially for libraries with limited resources. I’ll write more about open source later (and link to the open source and libraries websites that are outhere), but we’ve always had a pretty good commitment to it- we’ve got about 25 or so servers running Linux, including our main systems. Koha is shaping up to be a pretty interesting project. We’re not too thrilled with the interface, but if the Z39.50 add-on works then we should have relatively smooth sailling… sadly, it seems that LDAP integration with Koha is problematic, so we’re not quite sure how we’re going to sign iSchool individuals up for accounts yet.

Got the new version of DSpace up (1.4) this week, using Gentoo. I’ll be creating pages detailing some suggestions for installing DSpace with Gentoo based on my, Sam’s, and Shane’s experiences.

Informatics buffaloed, Recording Confusion

LISNews is reporting that the School of Informatics at Buffalo is being dissolved. The school was only seven years old, and was apparently the merger of various departments including LIS and Communications. It’s kind of hard to say why exactly the school is being shuffled to other departments- there’s a new president, some of the existing faculty may have not been happy with the direction of the school, and so on. Some faculty are understandably upset by this unexpected news. I’m not certain if this means anything for schools of Informatics or Information, except perhaps some faculty members will be looking to relocate.

The Daily Texan recently provided an editorial on open records at UT, involving the now-being-formed University College. Wait, now it’s the Baccalaureate College. The end of the article notes that not all emails were provided- only the emails sent to the entir committee involved with the formation of the college were handed over, in print form. Records at UT are interesting. There’s a records retention office, but it’s located out of the accounting department. The fully-funded position of a University Archivist no longer exists. Some records-related issues (like SSN remediation) are handled by Information Technology staff (that does include me at the school level). The state records retention laws are not really sufficient to deal with universities, especially given the complexities that universities have involving the intellectual property of faculty members and the ways that public universities in Texas are funded. It’s difficult to say what qualifies as a record based on existing state law. The state officials think the law is all-encompassing, and other officials seem to disagree with that interpretation. Electronic records add complexity to the issue, given the lack of electronic records infrastructure. The state hasn’t really come up with solutions, either. Part of the problem is that people are treating electronic records as a new problem that will be solved by the swooping in of some easy to use and affordable technology. That’s not going to happen. Several of the current problems involving electronic records have nothing to do with technology at all.

Records: Old, new, archaeology

From the Washington Post, The Amateur Sleuth Who Gave the Archives a Red Face. The story is about the researcher who discovered the questionable reclassification of documents in the National Archives, and it gives a good summary of the events that have occurred since the discovery. An important question that the story didn’t ask is a pretty basic one: So what? It’s interesting that a lot of people assume that the importance of records and archives is well understood by everyone, but I’m no longer so certain. An older story from the Post does a better job of answering this question, and this Slate article goes even further. Altering records and access to records affects history. It affects the transparency and running of our government. Removing records because they are embarrassing (as the Slate article alleges) is wrong. Any national security argument that proposes otherwise is ludicrous. Arguing for secrecy removes oversight.

Michael Schiavo is currently involved in a records issue. Namely, according to Florida law, his email while working for the state of Florida is considered a public record under Florida’s Public Records Law, and a newspaper has requested and been unable to obtain access to these emails. The article appears to be somewhat hostile towards Schiavo, but it very much illustrates some of the common problems involved in electronic records retention as it applies to email. These problems are not unique to Florida (although Florida does have some very interesting cases for some reason).

Finally, when it comes to electronic records, is there a more definitive source than the Onion? A story reports that recently discovered email gives hints as to what life was like back in the mid90s primitive Internet society. Truly, we are living in marvelous times.

Records, Privacy

The Managing Electronic Records Conference put on by Cohasset Associates was a very good experience. I attended as a student volunteer, and I met several persons in schools similar to our iSchool across the country, as well as vendors, consultants, professionals, and so on.

Electronic records aren’t exactly a recent interest of mine- I’ve been looking into retention schedules and how they might impact my job for some time. I’ve also had an interest in privacy and security. Recently, though, as I’ve been looking into archives and electronic records, the records management issues both at work and in the world have affected the way I examine these other issues.

Two stories from BNA’s Internet Law News today caught my interest:
Industry, Others Object to Data Retention
The story is about Alberto Gonzales’ call for greater records retention on the part ISPs. Once again, the excuses for this proposed action come from increased law enforcement powers related to terrorism and child pornography. However, ISPs are noting that there are security, privacy, technical and other issues related to this proposal. Government has been very much failing in privacy-related matters recently. This particular matter also affects ISPs such as universities and libraries, and many of these institutions as a matter of regular operation don’t keep transitory logs, for good reason. The privacy of students and patrons is incredibly important, as both a matter of established law and institutional or professional values. We haven’t really seemed to have good public discussions about privacy and why people should care about privacy, related to abuse, dignity, and so on. That type of talk needs to be part of the decision-making process.

We’re also constantly bombarded with one of the risks of records retention: stolen and lost information, and the risk of identity theft. See the second story from BNA News, Toronto Firm at Center of Security Breach. A piece of equipment that had the names and social security numbers of 1.3 MILLION students has been lost. These aren’t Canadian students, either- they’re students who borrowed from a Round Rock, TX based loan institution. Yes, just next to Austin. So, what are the risks to keeping even more personal information that wouldn’t have been kept in the first place? Privacy and data protection laws exist for a reason. They’re not just to limit cost and liability, although those certainly affect businesses. We really need a full understanding of the possibly harms that could come from such a law, instead of the rush from certain members of Congress to pass these things through.

Of course, there are also many procedural issues. Laws that affect records exist at both the federal (Sarbones-Oxley, FERPA) and state (library, government records) levels. There are also regulatory and legal concerns that govern record keeping behavior. These would need to be reconciled with such a broad change.